When we arrived for our visit with Mary Stewart Adams in northern Michigan, we walked in and found her beautiful daughter Jane sitting at the kitchen table. Jane recently graduated from NYU with a major in Complex Systems Science and a minor in Philosophy. She started out pursuing drama, but soon realized that her passion lay elsewhere and called home to confess her intention to change her course. Jane is now on her way to graduate school to pursue Urban Science and Informatics with a specific focus on Self-Organizing Complex Systems.
In her hand, Jane held a copy of Jane Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane is interested in traffic and is considering the question of how a population would organize itself in space if all signals, signs, and boundaries were removed. (There’s much more to it than that, but this gives a simple picture!) Growing up, Jane went to the Waldorf school “for a hot second” before transferring elsewhere.
Dottie began discussing her work with her before she knew what she had gotten herself into. Jane is incredibly sharp and was ready to meet the challenge of a kitchen full of anthroposophists. In fact, Dottie soon realized, “Oh, no! She wants to eat me for supper!” If Dottie had seen it coming, she never would have asked the first question!
A lively conversation ensued that lasted until 2:00 in the morning! We are happy to report that Dottie held her own, even if she asked Jane at one point to be gentle. (Jane smiled.) By the end, Jane said it was one of the better conversations she’s had on these topics and that she tends to stay away from them, as having to explain her study so often meets with incomprehension.
Everyone established that there was good will in the room and, by the end of the conversation, Jane and Dottie had made an agreement to meet each other’s challenge and different perspectives. We would like to share the agreement here.
When she begins this project, Dottie is not allowed to consider the following questions:
* What is the difference between living and nonliving?
* What is consciousness? (In fact, Jane suggested that Dottie consider: “Can I know consciousness without asking this DULL question of ‘what is consciousness’?”)
* What is thinking? Who is doing the thinking? (Can Dottie still study thinking without these essential questions?)
In taking up her task, Jane insisted that Dottie take her literally. DO NOT THINK ABOUT THOSE QUESTIONS! Can she still get to the truth of the matter?
Dottie has also agreed to the task of being present in her environment and holding her awareness of the greater environment at the same time. Can she be fully present in the kitchen, for example, while developing an awareness of the rest of the house? Dottie is confident that she can and told Jane that she had already been at work on her challenge by the end of the conversation. “You’re at a disadvantage on this one, young lady. I’ve been practicing for 20 years.” Jane contended that no two thoughts could be held at the same time.
The question of who does the thinking was a big theme of the conversation. Is it the brain that thinks? Is the brain an instrument for the true thinker? Who is the thinker? Jane held that the brain not only thinks, but it feels as well. Dottie maintained that the brain acts as a conduit; there is a thinker who thinks.
Jane’s love of philosophy has been influential on her work in the sciences and on her future path. From here, Dottie thought to recommend the Philosophy of Freedom! The version on hand said ‘spiritual activity,’ and Jane rolled her eyes. Dottie asked her to ignore that title, as it is also Philosophy of Freedom.
Both have agreed to reading book recommendations from the other. For her part, Dottie will read, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson. Jane, of course, will read Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom. Mary suggested that the best version for her to take up would be Rita Stebbing’s translation, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Dottie agreed to it with the condition that Jane would not let the words “spiritual activity” block her. Mary has a copy already, but hers is thoroughly marked with her own experiences. We want Jane to encounter this work without any indication of another’s thoughts or considerations. No writing, no underlining, no folded corners!
Besides studying the Philosophy of Freedom, Jane will write down five ways that rhythms have come to bear on her life that she has never thought of before.
It was fabulous to see Jane’s love for her work and also beautiful to witness Mary and Jane together. What strong women they both are! During our coffee shop conversation with Mary the next day, Jane sat with us for hours (four hours!), delighting in her studies and looking up occasionally to ponder. Jane is forging her own way in the world, bringing about new forms. She is sure to do amazing things!